Here, at Sparrow Chat, if there’s one thing we don’t do it’s suffer fools gladly. Yesterday, in the US Congress, one of the biggest fools in the land once again proved the extent of his idiocy.
The senator from Arizona, John McCain, stood up and demanded the US bomb Syria.
No doubt there are plenty of other fools happy to support such a notion. Egged on by biased media reports based on poor-quality, one-sided, footage from cellphones, the US media is spreading its usual poisonous mix of information and misinformation to an equally ill-informed American public.
Just who is responsible for the situation in Syria today? Well, if you’re reading this in Paris, or London, or in any other part of a country that has one of those cities as its capital, then you hardly have to step out of your front door to know the answer.
At the end of World War I, the British and French carved up what was then Syria between them. It was split into six zones. Britain took the eastern zone – the British mandate of Iraq, and parts of Southern Syria: the kingdom of Transjordan and the mandate, Palestine*. Ataturk grabbed a piece in the north for Turkey, and the French took the rest, sub-dividing it into the modern day Syria and Lebanon. (Of course, in 1948 and 1967 the Israelis helped themselves to further slices of Syria while the West stood by and cheered them on.)
The French didn’t stop there. They drew Lebanon’s borders so the vast majority of the population, Sunni Muslims, were under the control of a minority, Maronite Christians, who happened to be allies of France, thus ensuring the factions would be at each other’s throats for evermore.
The population of what remained of Syria was made up of warring sects from every religious background, coupled with numerous local tribal factions vying for power. Added to this mix was the pan-Arabist movement in Damascus, whose sole aim was the undoing of all the borders the British and French had just created.
Freya Stark, the renowned British explorer and travel writer, wrote in 1928 of French-controlled Syria:
I haven’t yet come across one spark of national feeling: it is all sects and hatreds and religions.”
As was the case with Lebanon, in Syria the French gave power to a minority group – from Latakia, a mountain stronghold in the west, bordering on Lebanon. The Alawites were an oppressed minority claiming descendancy from Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammed, and as such, Shi’ites. Their strange rituals, drawing more on Phoenician paganism and Christianity (they celebrate Christmas and Easter, and their ceremonies utilize bread and wine) alienated them completely from Syria’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim population.
The country was a melting pot of religious discontent and the French encouraged Alawites, Druze, Kurds, and even Circassians (descendents of a people deported in the 19th century from what is now Russia) into their military for the purpose of harassing the beleaguered majority Sunni population in the heartland of the country.
Western governments would have us believe that all Syria needs is democracy. After all, hasn’t it worked well in America and Britain? They perpetuate the myth that dictators have always ruled the country.
The truth is free elections were held in Syria in 1947, and again in 1949 and 1954. Predictably, in 1947, the National Party won but could only form a minority government, as most of the votes were spread around various sectarian candidates. For the next two years there was bickering and infighting, much as there is in Iraq today. Humiliation by the Israeli army in the Arab War of Independence in 1948 further undermined the Syrian government, and in March 1949 a military coup set the population rejoicing in the streets.
There were three military coups in just one year. During the second one elections were again held. They didn’t work and anarchy reigned until 1954, during which time Ba’athism began to make inroads into Syria’s political scene. Free elections were again held, and the Ba’ath Party secured a fair number of votes, but again most were spread among the plethora of sectarian candidates.
After a further four years of political struggle and Western interference, Syria gave up altogether and formed the United Arab Republic with Nasser’s Egypt.
Even that didn’t last. In 1961 the United Arab Republic collapsed due to resentment of Egyptian Sunnis by non-Sunni Syrians, and in 1963 the Ba’ath Party finally gained power by a military coup.
The gradual infiltration of the Syrian military by the Alawites of Latakia, encouraged by the French many years before, meant that Alawites now controlled the military, even though the sect made up only 12% of the Syrian population. It wasn’t long before they also controlled the Ba’ath Party.
Another coup followed in 1966, but it was the coup of 1970, bringing Hafez al-Assad to power, that finally brought stability to Syria. Hafez al-Assad ruled as dictator of Syria for thirty years. Prior to his coup, there were twenty-one changes of government in twenty-four years.
To suggest that Hafez al-Assad was a benevolent ruler would be incorrect, but he did instigate many reforms during his rule, including a change in the Constitution to guarantee equal rights for women. His secular government drew support from many of the minority religious groups who feared the rise of Muslim fundamentalism.
In some ways his rule could be compared to that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, though the two hated each other. It’s not generally known, but Syrian ground troops formed part of the US led UN coalition that expelled the Iraqi military from Kuwait in 1991.
Assad was responsible for a number of massacres of his countrymen. The most well known was the Hama massacre of 1982. Between 30,000 and 40,000 were killed to quell an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. His reaction to any insurgency was swift and severe. His own brother, Rifaat, tried to wrest power in 1984, while Assad was recovering from a heart attack. The president left his sick-bed to regain control. Rifaat was head of the army at the time and oversaw the massacre at Hama. Assad had his brother exiled to France (though the ‘Butcher of Hama’, as Rifaat is known to Syrian survivors of the massacre, is now living a very comfortable life as one of the British elite in London. A fact not advertised by the British government).
On his death the present ruler, Bashar al-Assad, took over power. He never wanted it. His elder brother was originally expected to take control but he was killed in an automobile accident. For six years prior to his death, Hafez al-Assad groomed his younger son for the position, and there is no doubt Bashar continued in his father’s image. His reaction to the present situation in Syria and its attendant massacres and killings, bears a striking similarity to the response of his father to the uprisings in Hama in 1982.
The question of bombing Syria as demanded by McCain, or any form of Western intervention, will result in another Bosnia. The country will be torn apart from within. Is that really what the West wants?
In 1982, the West largely ignored Syria and the Hama uprising. The reason was obvious. The last thing the West wanted was another fundamentalist Muslim state in the Middle East. Hafez al-Assad was left alone to sort out his own problems, which he did with ruthless efficiency.
Today, the situation has changed very little. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has not, as yet, produced any western-style democracies in the region. It certainly won’t do so in Syria.
While Cameron and Obama call for regime change in the country, it’s really no more than a sop to Western sensitivities. For them, the ideal solution would be similar to that which occurred in 1982.
In March this year, Robert Fisk, an expert on the region, had this to say when asked about UN intervention in Syria:
…If a U.N. force went in, it would need the permission of the Syrian authorities, and I think the Syrian Ba’ath party is a lot tougher, and the Syrian government is a lot tougher than we think it is. You know, when you’re in Syria, I was in Damascus just before Christmas, it doesn’t feel like a regime that’s about to collapse and, you know, Madam Clinton can huff and puff at the United Nations or the State Department. David Cameron can make pretty speeches at Mr. Sarkozy, but at the end of the day, the Syrian Ba’ath party is one of the original nationalist movements in the Arab world, but has very deep, sharp, hard roots. It took 25 years to get the Syrian government out of Lebanon. How long do you think it’s going to take to get them out of their own country, Syria. This is a country who’s minorities will fight brutally and ruthlessly to keep their own lives, because they’ve been protected by the Ba’ath party. I think that there may well be a civil war, if there isn’t already, in Syria, but it’s going to go on for a long time. The idea that you can just topple Assad by sending an international force, I think that’s a mirage…”
It’s a mirage being perpetuated by Senator John McCain and all the other warmongers of the Western alliance.
There is one certainty among all the doubts and misgivings presently surrounding Syria. Any decision by the West will not be based on humanitarian concerns. It will be made solely on whatever is considered economically and politically advantageous to the United States and its satellite allies.
* MANDATE: quasi-colonial territories established under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, 28 June 1919.
 “Letters from Syria” Freya Stark, Various dates.
 “Syria: The Limits of Intervention” The World, March 8th 2012